A Humanitarian Response to Drought Ravaged Communities in Northern Kenya: Adopting Mobile Technology

<p>Due to high mobile phone penetration in Kenya and 96% of mobile users having the fintech app, MPESA, disbursement of mobile money to victims of humanitarian disasters is simplified. Mobile money was recently used to send Unconditional Cash Transfers to affected communities in Garissa and Mandera as the region grapples with a worsening drought that has decimated livelihoods leaving the community with little to eat and provide for their children.</p>
Photos: CARE International
Photos: CARE International

KENYA, 30 May 2022 - Over 3.5 million people are facing severe hunger in Kenya. As the cost of livelihoods skyrockets and leads to the loss of livelihoods several factors play a role from failed successive rainfall seasons and locust swarms to the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns and now the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The community in Garissa, northern Kenya is not only drought-ravaged but also extremely vulnerable in terms of safety. As a result, in March 2022, the Government imposed a dusk to dawn curfew, leading to almost no access to some of the hardest-hit areas. This is due to increased criminal attacks, fueled by conflicts over land and other resources such as water and pasture. To access the communities affected by drought and unreachable due to safety concerns and poor road infrastructure, CARE International in Kenya adopted an existing fintech platform to disburse cash transfers.

In Kenya, mobile phone penetration is over 91 per cent. Of this, 96 per cent of users have mobile money accounts on M-PESA, a mobile phone-based money transfer platform. The platform enables users to register an account with a mobile service provider from which they can then deposit and withdraw money securely through a wide network of agents. CARE International in Kenya employed the use of the platform to reach over 21,000 drought-affected individuals in Northern Kenya.

“Using a criterion informed by CARE’s Rapid Gender Analysis, the most vulnerable were registered with assistance of local leadership and cash transfer committees,” says Sam Ombeki, CARE Kenya Senior Program Manager. “CARE validated the registers of the enlisted individuals’ to ensure their identity numbers were in alignment with their phone numbers. The list was submitted to CARE finance to process payments.”

A grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allows the identified individuals to each receive Kes. 5,100 (US$ 43.78) to their mobile money accounts. CARE International in Kenya negotiated with mobile service provider Safaricom Limited for subsidized transaction fees for the recipients. To ensure the recipients received maximum funds, CARE Kenya also covered withdrawal fees for the recipient's transaction fees.

"Mobile Cash transfers via money platforms are an easy and sustainable method of supporting individuals during a humanitarian crisis such as what is being experienced in Northern Kenya,” says Maureen Miruka, CARE Kenya Country Director. “Mobile cash transfers are not only a sustainable way of reaching affected individuals in far-flung areas but also is a dignified approach to supporting the vulnerable. This is because the recipients can utilize the funds based on their priority needs. The pre-assessment survey indicated recipients' expenditure priorities were food, water, school fees, veterinary services, livestock stocking, personal hygiene supplies, and repayment of loans.”

Salatho Hussein, a mother of six, has experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the drought. After losing his cattle as well as resources to buy food, the money did help meet some of the needs in her home. “My children lacked school fees and we had little food. With the money I was able to pay off some of the debt we had accrued as well as school fees for my children. The process for withdrawal was quite simple and fast as the Mpesa agent is near to my home,” says Salatho.

The Program reached over 10,700 women in both Garissa and Mandera.

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Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization working around the globe to save lives, defeat poverty, and achieve social justice. CARE puts women and girls at the centre of our work because we know we cannot overcome poverty until all people have equal rights and opportunities. CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls to lift themselves, their families, and communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE works in over 100 countries around the world.

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